Critical Mass at CES

  • As CES fires up day one of the big show in Las Vegas today, there is so much food for thought, I don’t know where to start. And I’m not talking about the whole wide world of consumer electronics–I’m talking about digital signage.
  • I probably don’t have to explain that the old model in the “AV” world, where the electronics giants (manufacturers) put their newest technology into the “pro” market first, and then, later, trickled it down into the consumer market–that that model is now reversed. Just do the math. The electronics giants figured out about 10 years ago that adage that is probably more valuable than a Harvard MBA:
  • “If you entertain the classes, you eat with the masses. If your entertain the masses, you eat with the classes…”
  • Counter intuitive, but true, and there is no place like the CES show to see this adage in action. This year’s CES may not have 130,000 attendees like it did a few years ago, but the irony is that this year’s CES probably has more new technology on view than it did in any of past five years, when the show was as we say in Texas, “more hat than cattle”. This year’s CES has cattle a’plenty– and I’m not talking about the press cattle-calls.
  • It’s too early in the show to start with sweeping trend analysis, and the blogosphere will feature trend analysis in droves. Here’s my preliminary list of interesting things we’ll see at CES, in totally random fashion (befitting a show like this):
  • 3D is the buzz of the show. Hollywood sees it as their best hope for getting people out of their living rooms where they have 2K resolution flat panels or projectors. Display makers see it as the way to upsell consumers from no-margin LCD panels. According to CES stats revealed at the show, the television market has been one of the primary revenue drivers the past several years as consumers made the transition to high-definition, flat-panel sets. Unit sales will climb to more than 37 million in 2010 but price drops will cause display revenue to decline slightly to $22 billion. Innovation in TV displays, such as 3D, Internet connectivity and OLED technology, will continue to grow and help maintain revenue in the display category. CEA projects sales of more than 4 million 3D television sets in 2010.
  • LCD TV sales are still strong, but profits are shrinking fast as prices for the TVs drop, according to DisplaySearch, of Austin, Tx, which projects LCD TV revenues to decline about 6% in 2009 due to discounting and the rise of discount retail channels, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc, as TV suppliers.
  • DisplaySearch says a total of 9 million units of 3D TVs will ship in 2012.
  • DisplaySearch also said here:

• LCD will be the primary display technology used for 3D displays, as a result of its wide range of display applications ranging from small mobile phones to large public displays and TVs.

• Eyewear will be necessary for most 3D applications for many years to come, due to the limitations of auto-stereoscopic (no glasses) technologies.

• There will be more than 7,000 new 3D cinema screens installed in 2010 and an additional 9,000 in 2011.

- LCD panels will continue to dominate in digital signage. And note that at CES, LED-backlit LCD panels are really everywhere… LG is showing six new LED-backlit LCD panels; Samsung has “superslim” LED-backlit LCD panels; Sharp is showing three; and Sony is showing no less than eight new LED-backlit LCD panels; and Tohiba is showing “Cell LCD TV”, which is LED-backlit.

- 3D will be slow to be adopted in digital signage– until they can do it with no glasses… and, they can, now, it’s just a matter of how fast the no-glasses technology can be made affordable. (At CES, yesterday, in their press conference, Toshiba said it has developed a new technology that increases the processing speed of LCD significantly. It claims to achieve80Hz speed, done by converting 60fps to 240, then using backlight (LED) scanning to get the speed up to 480Hz.

The other buzz at CES: Smartphones.
According to CES, “Smartphones and netbooks are primed for strong growth as consumers continue to seek efficient, portable devices,” said Steve Koenig, CEA's director of industry analysis. “With more consumers seeking content anywhere, anytime, the demand for products facilitating these experiences will drive purchases going forward.”

My question: we have all been talking, in the digital signage world, about the imminent arrival of the cell phone as a “remote control” for digital signage. But maybe we ought to consider that other adage:

Could it be possible that in the rush to create the “4th screen” that reaches shoppers/commuters/workers in the out-of-home (and out of office) environment, could big screens be bypassed all together? In other words, could digital signage go directly to small screens, i.e. the screens in peoples’ hands, directly? It’s a real threat, just as music essentially bypassed the old distribution models and consumers voted that they were content with mediocre quality content (MP3) on a tiny handset. Of course digital signage is different– people have to walk by screens in retail stores, airports, malls, etc etc.. but we do need to think about whether the smartphone is going to be a competitor to as well as a driver of digital signage.

…. Much more to come from CES 2010….